Letter to a Fallen Soldier

Going Home

This is not my usual post, but what I experienced on my travels from Denver to Houston today inspired me to write this:

Leaving Denver to fly to Houston

Dear Soldier.

We have never met and I don't know if you are a man or a woman, yet now we will take a trip together, from Denver to Houston.  And still, we will never meet, because you are a Fallen Soldier going home to family on the gray tarmac at George Bush International Airport.

When I arrived at the gate this morning there were two color guards waiting with a flag.  I had no idea why they were there and from afar, as I was walking toward the gate I thought they were reps hawking Mileage Plus credit cards until I came closer and saw the American flag.

We had a slight delay for something the gate agent wasn't very clear about.  I was in no rush this morning and it was 40 minutes prior to our scheduled departure time so there was no need to become impatient.

When the plane came in, so did a hearse, fire trucks, police cruisers and various airport vehicles.

I watched you as you were slid gently into the cargo hold after all of our luggage was put on board as Color Guard, soldiers, police, and airport personnel stood at attention and saluted you on your way onto the plane.  You received full military honors for your journey home.

The two military escorts, waiting patiently in the first class seats the two kind passengers offered to them, looked at their hands as we all shuffled by, knowing we had precious cargo beneath our seats.

Sitting just over the entrance to the door, I watched as the baggage handler, with strong arms and an unknowing look in eyes hidden behind aviator sunglasses carefully lifts your large camouflage duffle bag with your personal belongings onto the plane before closing the door.

I wonder what's in that bag and conjure up images of jump boots and kaki camouflage uniforms, photos of family and other loved ones, letters and miscellaneous other things that traveled far across the world from your home to the place where you spent the rest of your life far from your "normal" world.

I hope my small suitcase was near yours, my happy memories and travels there to comfort you in some strange way as you make your final journey home.

During the brief flight I'm distracted by thoughts of you and of the family that will be there to greet you in Houston and the flight, a short one flies by quickly.

As we start to descend the pilot comes on and announces the news that we are taking a Fallen Soldier home and asks us to please wait to allow the escort to deplane first.  He told us there would be an escort event and that a water cannon may be used in tribute.

He thanked the two escorts and "our" unknown soldier for all they do, all they have done to protect each of us and secure our freedom.  I say "our," because in the brief hour-long flight, I feel I have come to be a part of your life although unfortunately, it is not in your lifetime that we became acquainted.

When we land, three large fire trucks, one of them with a water cannon on top, a black hearse and other official vehicles are waiting for you and out there on the tarmac, is a family waiting to greet you, probably wishing they could blink their eyes and see you walking off our plane, but instead, wiping tears from their eyes as they await your flag-draped coffin.

Your mom or sister or wife or girlfriend wipes her eyes with a tissue and as you are sent down the ramp, she collapses to the ground for a few minutes.  Back on her feet, you are carried by the honor guard to the hearse and I watched as the driver, taking care not to slam the door on you, carefully closes the back of the hearse. 

The honor guard marches off the tarmac to a waiting van and you are driven off to your final resting place. 

I don't know who you are, I don't know how long you were deployed and I don't know where you were, but I do know that you were cared for on this last leg of your journey and that in the airports in both Denver and Houston, travelers and airport personnel took time to pay tribute to you by standing in silence, watching as the scene unfolded before our eyes. 

And just as I don't know you, I don't know them or what they were thinking as they watched and waited, took photos or videos to remember this sad scene forever, but if they are like me, they felt respect and sorrow, pride and many thanks for your service. 

I wish you peace, soldier.